Saturday, April 2, 2016

Gullible's Travels

I was walking to the bank early one Sunday morning sometime in 1987, and I was approached by an older, homeless, Native American guy. We walked together on Sunset Boulevard for a few blocks, chatting. I had just moved to Los Angeles to become an actress and was living up the street from Rock and Roll Ralph's. He was pretty drunk, but nice enough and not creepy in the least. I gave him my phone number and told him to call me if he ever needed anything. Yeah, before I became a parent, I used to be really nice. He wished me luck in my acting career, told me I reminded him of his daughter, and we went our separate ways. Isn't being a good person awesome?

A few weeks later, the phone rang. A man's voice asked for me. I said "yes, this is she...?"
He said "I got your number. I work down the street at the Pussy Cat Theater, and I was wondering if you'd like to come audition." 
I was quiet for a second and said " did you get my number?" wondering if it was written on a bathroom wall somewhere or if the talent manager I  had just parted ways with was feeling vindictive. He said that "a guy" had given it to him and then asked me if my hair was still red, how old I was and a whole bunch of other none-of-your-business questions. What I wanted to know was who the fuck gave him the number, but he kept saying he didn't know the guy's name. We went around and around for about ten minutes when it dawned on me: that smelly, drunk ASSHOLE that I was trying to HELP had probably traded my number for a peep show or God knows what else. EEEUUUUUWWWWWW. I explained that I had no intention of coming in for an audition, asked him to lose my number and hung up the phone. That was the last time that I gave my number to a drunk homeless guy. Yeah, I totally have a learning curve.

A similar incident occurred a few years later, slightly farther east. We had moved to the black little heart of Hollywood, near Western and Hollywood. We lived for two years amongst drug dealers, prostitutes and thieves, oddly oblivious to the extreme danger surrounding us on all sides.
One day, I was lying around- having an actor's day of doing absolutely nothing-when the phone rang. I picked it up, and John Waters said, in his lovely, velvety Southern accent:
"Hello, my name is Mr. Purdy and I am doing research for high school students. It's a survey about human development. Can I ask you some questions?"
Okay, so it wasn't JohnWaters, but Mr. Purdy sure sounded exactly like him. I absolutely LOVE John Waters so, naturally, I said yes.
"How old are you?" he asked, very officially.
I answered him.
"How old were you at the first time of sexual intercourse?" His tone was very male nurse.
I answered him. It's anonymous, right?
"What is  your cup size?" he continued, in a monotone data collection way.
I answered him. Hey, I'm helping high school students, right?
"What color is your pubic hair?"
I answered him. But I was confused about how this would factor into the research.
"Like...a strawberry?" he replied, with the last syllable lilting up ever so slightly.
" a strawberry..." I trailed off as it hit me. EEEUUUUUWWWW.
I slammed the phone down and Oh My GAWD-ed around my apartment for a few minutes, marveling at my own stupidity. What a bizarre pervert Mr.Purdy was! No heavy breathing, no groaning- just rapid fire health form questions? Truly strange. He called back a few months later, but I nipped that shit in the bud as soon as I heard his voice. Because I totally have a learning curve.

Cut to the present. I was walking through the large parking lot at Ventura Blvd near Laurel Canyon a couple of  months ago. I was on my way to return some pants to Lulu Lemon and get my requisite affirmation from the yogini-in- training behind the counter when a small, dark, sweet-faced, bald, toothless man in his late fifties approached me. He was holding some official looking papers in one hand.
"Excuse me", he said, waving the papers around, "Can I ask you something?" 
I stopped walking. He put up his hands, as if I had recoiled from him. I hadn't. 
"Oh, no, don't  be uncomfortable talking to me....My name is Gilbert. I'm a neighbor."
 He laughed nervously and pointed towards the other side of the street, as if his white picket fence was just around the corner from the Starbucks Coffee shop. His mood became abruptly somber.
"I was just at the CVS", he said. "Well...I have full blown AIDS...."
He trailed off and put up his hands- goalie style- as if I'd made a face or taken a step back. I hadn't.
"Don't worry", he said,"You won't catch it... it's not contagious." 
He dramatically pulled up his right sleeve to reveal a severely shrunken, emaciated upper arm. 
As his sleeve rose up, I was transported back to 1999 when I lived in a ground floor apartment off La Brea and Sixth. I opened the door one afternoon over fifteen years ago, and he, the exact same Gilbertwas standing there and said EXACTLY the same thing. Word for word. Except for the contagious bit. That part really pissed me off- do I look like a fucking moron? Does anyone actually think AIDS can be caught from talking to someone in a parking lot?  
Back then-before Motherhood had wrung all the kindness out of me- I asked which apartment he lived in, and he wrote it down, with lots of pointing and gesturing, like he'd lived there for twenty years. Just.Like.Today. "A neighbor..." I gave him some money for the medication he supposedly needed, and he departed. More like vanished. After he left, I went outside to verify the address (out of sheer curiosity) and discovered (surprise!)that it didn't exist. He was long gone and so was my money and another small chunk of my trust in humanity. 

I have to say, as I've gotten older, I've gotten much more cynical. I used to feel that it was better to give the money to someone rather than risk not helping a person in need. Now, I'm like the bartender in "The Grifters" who sees John Cusack coming from a mile away and gives him a vicious jab in the gut with a baseball bat when he smells the con. I'm all out of patience for con artists and perverts.
As I looked at his arm for the second time, a lot of things came to my mind to say to Gilbert 2016, but all that came out was:
"I know you. You came to my door over fifteen years ago with the exact same story."
Then I walked away.
He scurried off as I contemplated what had just occurred. Learning curve, yes, but conflicted, too.
I mean, he could have been surviving all these years. Probably not, but I suppose it's possible.
I kind of wanted to congratulate him.
"Well done, Gil!  Same exact script for all these years?! How remarkable!"
I wanted to shame him.
"I know AIDS, Sir. I've lost friends to AIDS. You, Sir, do not have AIDS" 

I despise con artists like Gilbert. And Mr Purdy. And that creepy homeless guy. They provide us with material but at the same time manage to make us feel stupid and vulnerable. They rob us of our better nature. They prey on the best parts of us- the tender, kind parts. Gilbert is actually the better man because he didn't see me as a walking vagina. The others saw something to be exploited because I was young and female. I want to raise my girls to be kind and helpful, but it will most certainly be tempered with a course or two of verbal and physical jujitsu. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Killer Instinct

Little wants a "casino" party this year. This was presumably prompted by our family movie night choice of "Rain Man" last weekend. She wants to donate the earnings to an autism charity in lieu of gifts. Little is pretty awesome.
I love to throw themed parties and immediately took to Pinterest to see what people even crazier than I am have done for a kid's casino party. There were thousands of giant dice shaped cakes, every variety of wheel of fortune imaginable, perfect replicas of casino floors on a sheet cake, incredible ornate playing card displays made entirely of spun sugar, a functioning slot machine made of cake, a Joe Pesci standee that said "Listen to me Anthony. I got your head in a fuckin' vise. I'll squash your head like a fuckin' grapefruit if you don't give me a name. Don't make me have to do this, please. Don't make me be a bad guy, come on." Perfect for a kid's party, right?
Gambling is a strange hobby, and my personal fascination is with slot machines. What possesses seemingly rational people to sit for hours putting their hard earned money one nickel at a time into a machine that dings and lights up and gives you back a pittance in exchange is beyond me. Although- we know a guy who won ten million dollars playing slots, so there's that one person, but on the whole, it's a pretty fucking weird way to throw away money.
However, a real live slot machine also happens to put the "casino" in "casino party". I went to Craigslist because, like AAA, it has never let me down. I love me some CL,  and right away I found an affordable, thoroughly strange Japanese slot machine named "Muscle Tomato" for sale in Burbank. It was perfect. Most of the other slots available didn't really work or cost way too much to be amusing for a nine year old's birthday. This one was described as fully functional and had a bag of tokens and the keys and a printable manual. CL comes through again...yesssssss.
I took a picture of the ad,  dropped the kids off at school and texted the seller around ten. The reply asked for me to call to set up a time to see it. It was a little odd- in  my experience CL transactions are limited to texting/emailing and part of the fun is arriving at the location and wondering what the hell the person is going to look like. It's never what you think.
I called.
"Hello?"(muffled man's voice)
"Hi, I just texted you about the slot machine?"
"Uh, when can I come see it? I'm available today until 2, Wednesday through Friday from 9-2"
"You can come today at 11:30".
"Ok, and it works?"
" It works? The machine? It's for a kid's, uh, bat mitzvah". I'm actually not sure why I said it, since it isn't for a bat mitzvah, but it seemed to give it more importance than just a regular party.
"For a what?
"Uh, a sweet sixteen party". Again, I guess I didn't want to explain bat mitzvah so I figured Sweet Sixteen was an easier example.
"Oh, because you said bat mitzvah before... But it doesn't matter...come at 11:30". Instead of asking him why he said "what?" if he heard me say bat mitzvah, I asked him his name.
"Norton", he replied and hung up.
I went into the grocery store for about thirty minutes, obsessively pre-planning the casino party in my head.
Should we have cocktail waitresses dress up like tomatoes? 
Should the food be tomato themed?
Would the kids drink virgin bloody mary's?
I'm clearly off my medication...or I missed my calling.
When I got back to the car, I looked at the photo I had taken of the ad to make sure I wanted this particular slot machine enough to drive all the way to Burbank instead of doing other important things like errands or spending time making our home less Hoarders-like. The Muscle Tomato was obscured by his contact info, so I searched for it again on CL. When it popped up, the price had gone up sixty dollars. I double checked the picture I took- it was not the same price.  The current ad had coincidentally been reposted twenty nine minutes ago- exactly when I had hung up the phone with Norton.
My first reaction was to think-in Ralph Kramden's voice of course- "NORTON!?!? Trying to get one over on ol' Ralphie boy, eh?!?!?Why I oughtta...."
I texted him.
"The price is ***,yes?"
He did not reply.
I began to drive to Burbank, where Crafty Norton lives and went over our conversation in my head.
Was it the bat mitzvah comment? Does he hate Jews? Is it because I'm female? Does he think I'll be too scared to confront him about the original price being sixty dollars less? Do I whip out my phone and show him the photo first or wait until he's done his spiel?
Then it hit me. I'm female. I'm a female that is driving alone to a strange man's house to look at an old slot machine.
Despite my age being statistically out of the "rape zone", no one knew where I was going.
I had just seen"Room". I'd read a shit load of true crime. "Silence of the Lambs " was still really palpable twenty five years later. Yes, that was twenty five years ago...
I turned on the radio and the news just so happened to be chronicling the crimes of the Grim Sleeper, a Los Angeles serial murderer who killed nine women, one teenager and is suspected of killing eight more women whose pictures were found in his apartment. I wondered if they found any slot machines...
Despite his name sounding like the guy you talk to in Accounting, I started thinking about what Norton may be up to while he awaited my arrival. Was he readying the chloroform as I exited the 5 freeway?Or trying to remember which key opened the cage that he keeps in the basement? I drove on, in a slight panic that I might not survive this experience, wondering what they will nickname Norton after all the bodies are discovered. The Slot Machine Slayer? The Muscle Tomato Murderer? I debated just turning around, but I really wanted the slot machine. I guess you can say that I'm either willing to die for a good bargain, or I'm just a really committed party planner.
For a brief moment, reason set in, and Norton suddenly seemed like a really lame serial killer.Were old slot machines even an effective tool for luring women into one's diabolical lair? How many naive women were looking for used casino games on CL at any given time? It can't be very many...
But he only needed one.
I texted him again.
"Please confirm the price"
He wrote back.
"only for you".
Only for me? Is that because he knows I'll be dead? What does that mean?
I arrived at the address and cruised up and down the street. It's an average looking block of houses and duplexes near Warner Brothers Studios. There was a sofa on the curb, but then again, in LA, where isn't there a sofa on the curb? A woman was watering her lawn next door to Norton's place, an old yellowed stucco two story apartment building with no visible windows and a single solid door on the bottom that screamed "I'm being held captive in the basement". I resisted the urge to remind her about the drought, thinking she'd be a lot less likely to call the police for me if things went south.
I parked outside and decided to text him and tell him that he needed to bring the slot machine outside.
"I'm not comfortable going inside without my husband present". It occurred to me that he might think I was Orthodox and could jack up the price again.
Norton came outside two minutes later. Disappointingly, he was not wearing his Honeymooner's namesake's trademark white T-shirt, open vest and beat-up felt hat with the upturned brim (a hat Art Carney paid $5 for in 1935 while still in high school). Burbank Norton was in his late sixties, gray hair, blue sweatshirt, tan shorts and flip flops sporting some of the most un-pedicured feet I have ever seen. He seemed less serial killer and more bachelor/antiquarian, a designation that comes with a completely different set of caveats. He crossed the lawn and opened the single door where it looked like all the torture devices would be conveniently stored, and the Muscle Tomato slot machine was right there in the doorway. I stood cautiously outside on the grass and watched him demonstrate how it worked. He was making funny,vaguely racially tinged jokes and being surprisingly charming for a potential stone cold killer.
I asked how much it weighed and he said "Eighty pounds. When you asked me to bring it outside, I was wondering if you understood how heavy it is..". I sheepishly explained that I got freaked out because they just announced the trial of the Grim Sleeper on the radio etc. He paused for  second, looking at me sideways, and said, "Killers don't generally have a sense of humor...".
I didn't bother to ask if he'd ever heard of Ted Bundy.
He made a joke about not having killed in awhile, but now he was suddenly feeling the urge again.
I laughed, kind of, and backed up a couple of feet. As he carried the slot machine to my car, I took note of how easily he managed eighty pounds and wondered if my dead weight would have been a challenge. I'd like to think so.
I gave him the cash. He then asked me, in rapid succession, if I knew what the BMW logo on my car stood for, then if I knew how to say good-bye in German,  and then said "Bonne Chance, know what that means"? . I wondered for a second if Bundy gave any of his victims pop quizzes before he kidnapped them. It's actually not a bad distraction technique, but I just shrugged and got into my car. I sped away with the slot machine in my trunk, adrenally fatigued but alive.
And don't even, Burbank Norton. "Bavarian Motor Works; Auf Wiedersehen, and Good Luck, Motherfucker".

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stonewall Jackson is a randy fellow...

When I was very young and susceptible, I went to the Beverly Garland Hotel on Vineland, one sunny Saturday morning, for a "seminar" about  how to break into "the business". It had been listed in the back of the LA Weekly, so it must be the real deal, right? Yes, I was at a stagnant(read desperate) point in my acting career and was trying to be "proactive". It's mortifying. Really.
Anyway, I was one of three people who had paid to sit on a fold out couch in the living room area of a rundown hotel suite and learn about "the business" from a slick, balding, gold Mercedes driving, suit wearing, self proclaimed hot shot I'll call Dirk. Dirk told us right away that he owned an international modeling agency. Despite the fact that none of the three of us were "model material" or remotely international for that matter, he proceeded to explain why we three should let him, a bona fide expert, help us become famous. In addition to encouraging us to let him steer us in the right direction to stardom, he also wanted us to let him take our pictures- "head shots", he called them - but, oddly, all of his slide show examples were fuzzy boudoir shots of women in lingerie. There was a lot of cleavage and blond hair and satin sheets. A whole lot.
When it was over, I used my best late eighties/early nineties judgement and gave him a deposit check for the pictures.
I know. I KNOW?! Right?! What was I thinking? I cannot explain what would possess me to do anything but walk the fuck away from someone that overtly lecherous, slick, and cagey.To his credit, he was a really talented schmoozer.
The minute I said goodbye and stepped over the threshold of the hotel room, I drove straight home and called my lawyer, Leonard, who was a old school entertainment attorney that my father's legal counsel from New York in 1971 had referred me to. I  asked him to help me get the check back.
He told me that he would have to charge me more than the cost of the check to even pick up the phone. He suggested I call Dirk and tell him I had changed my mind, so I did. I called him and explained that I'd made a mistake. Dirk was much less "Star 80" about it than I expected him to be, but he was really quite condescending, implying that I wasn't ready, I was not professional material. He did not give the money back, but he did agree to have another photographer take my head shots instead.
Fine, I said, I need head shots, but you're an overly persuasive pervy creep whose behavior only gets worse down the line, am I right?
No, I did not say that, but I'm sure it was true. People like Dirk are why I have never flown to Vegas to pretend to look at a timeshare to get free food because I'm the person, despite all my stubbornness and determination, who will buy the stupid condo that I can't afford.
He gave me the name of the new photographer-I'll call him Pascal-and I called and made an appointment. The details are fuzzy as it has been at least twenty years, but at some point I went, by myself, to a gorgeous loft downtown- all white brick on the inside-with enormously high ceilings and giant windows. Pascal looked like a young, blond Rupert Everett and he seemed totally bored by my normal actress/not model wardrobe and stipulations: no nudity, head shot, clean, all American. An equally bored French woman did my makeup, and her first order of business was to cover up every single freckle on my face. Not an easy task, but, by the time she was through, she had painted on two enormous caterpillar eyebrows in a deep auburn color; took my hair and created a giant jellyroll pompadour on top of my head with an abundant amount of teasing, brushing and hairspray; had me put on my favorite vintage forties houndstooth skirt suit, and pushed me into the studio. Pascal started taking pictures. I was certain that this was some sort of humiliating payback from Dirk.

In the mirror, I looked like that scene from Betty Blue where she's starting to unravel:

In print, however, I was astonished at how great the pictures were- of this other person. These were not photos of me.  I tried to use one of the other, more normal looking shots but was told summarily by an angry casting director that I did not look anything like my picture. Oh, well.

I shudder to think what the shoot with Dirk would have been like. Hysterical, topless crying with the shutter clicking in the background comes to mind.
I never saw Dirk again. I have always considered him a bullet dodged/the person responsible for some great looking but useless photographs of my younger self.
I recently did some investigating to find out what became of the Hollywood cliche that he embodied twenty years ago and discovered that, since his days as a lecherous international modeling agency owner, he has become an internationally known painter whose work is and collected by three past presidents, several movie stars and a couple of race car drivers. He has also founded an international charity that helps low income women get mammograms. I hope to God he doesn't perform them himself.  He spends his free time depicting Civil War characters in historical re-enactments near his home in another part of the country, which I'm sure he'd do internationally if he could.  He's also written a book about depression and anxiety that's internationally available, obviously.
I was a little stunned. From a cheesy modeling agency owner to a charity running, collected artist, author and living historian? Did he have a personality transplant? Did he have a near death experience? Did he find religion?
I am a believer that people are innately who they are by their teens, and certainly by thirty- this guy was a balls out hustler if ever there was one-no pun intended. I did come across a legal document that was filed by some poor, naive model against him and his international modeling agency, right around the time that he was holding those "seminars". The information in the document is pretty pathetic. There are LOTS of references to offers of "special relationships", countless sexual advances, one exposed genital situation, outright promises/begging to give her free Zed cards if she slept with him. He was constantly on the make and the worst part is that his wife was also implicated in the lawsuit as a co-owner of the business, but perhaps she was just as bad or possibly worse? They are still married, apparently and, according to Google, it's all very international. But, then again, so is IHOP.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Citizen Fail

I'm leaning into the passenger seat of my filthy black mid size SUV, which is littered with used Kleenex, paper cups, recycled plastic utensils, old magazines, and random toys from an eternity of party favor bags. All of it is covered in a liberal layer of Pirate's Booty dust. Thanks, "Robert", for making such a prolific snack. 
Yes, I have kids. I've just finished washing the outside of the car for two bucks in under three minutes at the DIY car wash in the heart of Hollywood. I'm a peasant at heart, all tips go to me. And now for the vacuum cleaner portion: I'm praying the hose at the suction station I chose doesn't smell like wet dog or vomit...
I'm looking for the coins I just spent forever coaxing from the change machine with a series of flaccid dollar bills that lazily make their way in and get rejected just as lazily on the way out. I try this exercise repeatedly until I cave and put in a ten dollar bill. Works every time. Now I just have to remember that these are dollars, not quarters. There are parking meters all over town that I've loaded to capacity with dollars that look like quarters. It's  a conspiracy.
The suction bays are empty except for mine and one other car- a late-model Datsun Z, cobalt blue - parked about twenty feet away.There is a guy in exercise clothes doing the same thing I'm doing, except he's with someone- a girl-who looks about thirteen who is sitting in the passenger seat playing with a cell phone. Even from twenty paces, I can see that she's quite pretty, and very groomed- jean jacket, hair done in a high poofy ponytail. I can't hear him, but I can see the body language. I watch them for a second, and he tells her to put the phone away. She does, and then suddenly turns and looks at me through the seats. Our eyes meet, and she holds the gaze. I do, too, for a few seconds because her expression is so direct. It's not unfriendly, but she doesn't smile. I throw the hose through the backseat and walk around to  the driver's side to start sucking up the weeks of build up: When did they have Ritz crackers? Why am I buying more rubber bands when clearly there's enough for seven girls right here in my car? Who leaves a half eaten apple in the side pocket? Yes, it was wrapped in a napkin, but now I know why my car smells like a big yellow school bus...
I trot around to the passenger side to investigate the other kid's hidden treasures and am startled to see that the girl is now standing outside of the car, on the rear driver's side, feet together, holding her shiny pink purse against her body, facing me. I pause for a second. She is looking at me with the same expression, like a deer in the woods that stands there, trying to determine if I am friend or foe. I kind of nod at her and smile weakly and go back to vacuuming, uncertain of what is happening, but I'm quickly starting to question things like why isn't she in school in the middle of a weekday, and who exactly is the guy in the exercise clothes and what is the nature of their relationship.
The guy digs around in the car, finds his wallet and starts to walk to the change machine. She takes a small step towards me,  and he says over his shoulder something like "get back in the car". He gets to the change machine. We both watch him. He can't get the dollars to make change. He goes around to the other side of the car wash, out of sight.
She mouths "Help me"
Without thinking, I  beckon her. She starts walking quickly, and I open the rear door.She gets in. 
"Get in the trunk, under the blanket" I say. She does. 
My heart is pounding, and the vacuum cleaner stops. I quickly fumble for more quarters and shove a handful of golden dollars into the slot. It starts again, and I'm hoping its screaming loudness will repel him. I walk slowly around to the driver's side and get in, just as he is walking back across the lot to his car. He puts the quarters in and suddenly turns abruptly towards his car and realizes she is not in the passenger seat. He runs around to the other side-the vacuum cleaner hitting the ground like a giant snake. He peers into the back seat then runs to the street and looks up and down. He wants to find her alright, but this is no brother, boyfriend or father. There is no anguish in his expression. He does not call her name. He looks pissed because his money maker just escaped. He gets in the car and screeches away, I watch him drive away and quietly thank the window tinting guy for talking me into the maximum. 
"Are you okay?" I ask. She is quiet.
Then "Is he gone?". 
I say yes but tell her stay down in case he comes back.
"Who is he?" I ask after a silence.
"A guy." she says plainly.
"What is your name?" I ask. She seems to think about it for a second.
"Marcella", she says."But everybody calls me Cella"
"Is there somewhere I can take you? Someone I can call?"
She is quiet. "Not really..." she says. Then her phone starts ringing.
"He's gonna call all day.." she says casually, looking at the phone.
"Is he your boyfriend?" I ask, knowing that he isn't.
"Kinda, but mostly I just work for him."
"How old are you?" I ask. She doesn't respond right away. 
Yeah, right, I think, and I'm thirty-two.
I start driving, in case he comes back. First, I call my sister, who is a doctor, thinking she can help me. She doesn't pick up. I want to call the police, but I fear they will do nothing, and she'll be back on the street by tonight. I finally call the Sexual Abuse Hotline, and they have me drop her off at a safe house near Atwater Village. A woman named Brenda does her intake, assuring me that she will be assigned to a caseworker by tomorrow. I say goodbye, giving her a hug and wishing her luck. She smiles tearfully. I drive away sobbing, just in time to pick up my kids at school. Thank God I'm so observant and knew exactly what to do...

Okay, so that's not what happened. Not even close. Nope. 

If only
Yes, I saw the girl, I saw the guy. I knew something was off, but I had no clue what to do about it.  Yes, she stared directly at me for an odd amount of time, and moved from the passenger seat to stand along the backside of the car, but that was it. She did not ask for help. But she might have needed it.Was I to approach her and ask if she was okay? And if she wasn't, am I going to leg wrestle her well muscled pimp to free her? I detest busybodies, but I'm prone to it because I notice things. Yet, I was paralyzed by the prospect that I might be mistaken and did nothing. That's correct, I did nothing. Because I didn't want to seem inappropriate. But what is more inappropriate  than pimping out a little girl...?
I drove away, feeling horribly conflicted. I circled back, though-immediately-to get a license plate,  but they were gone. Of course they were gone.

I had successfully compartmentalized this until a few months later when I read the article in Los Angeles Magazine at the doctor's office about the phenomenon of child sexual slavery in our city occurring in staggering numbers right now at this very moment. The people at the car wash pretty much fit the basic description:young, really well groomed girl not in school with an older guy. They were also both black, which added to my consternation because even though the preponderance of victims of sexual slavery in LA are young black girls, what if they were just law abiding citizens washing their car? Can you imagine the amount of back pedaling required to not get punched in the face by someone you've wrongly accused of being a pimp? Talk about awkward. 
I really want to believe that she was his sister or his daughter, but that's just not the feeling I got. Do I call the police because of a feeling? And what will they do, really.What can they do?
What I did discover is that there is somewhere to call if this ever happens again, or at the very least, I can give the next girl that information: Saving Innocence. The website has prevent,rescue, and restore pages that explain how they can work to rebuild the lives of girls that are lucky enough to get permanently removed from this awful existence. While I can't abandon my current job as a full time parent/laundress/chef/driver/problem solver/finder of lost items/summer activities coordinator/travel agent/housekeeper/aspiring author to volunteer in their office just yet, I can send supplies for the girls they do rescue. Most of the these girls come in wearing very little, some have been beaten or worse. They need comfort. Specifically, they need sweatpants, t-shirts, sweatshirts, socks, blankets, underwear, bras, and hygiene supplies (tampons, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, deodorant, hair brush, and hair ties). Collected items can be sent to PO Box 93037, Los Angeles, CA 90093. Yay, now I have a valid reason to go to Evil Target.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Raging Waste of Potential and other Compliments

Wow, I haven't posted in forever. I would love to announce that I'd spent the last eight months writing a script or perfecting my ballroom dancing skills, but I cannot because I did not. Maybe next year.
I did, however, follow through with the subject of my last post and began attending thrice weekly bootcamp. And you know what? It worked. I fucking did it.
It has taken me since February, three days a week plus a few extra days if I was up for it, to
s-l-o-w-l-y lose nearly twenty pounds and gain a ton of muscle strength.

And I drank wine every single day.

The upside is that I'm wearing the clothes that I've hung onto since 2005 B.C. (Before Children- I'm not THAT old).The downside is that I haven't accomplished anything else, so perhaps I am incapable of working on my mind and my body concurrently. Oh,well.
Yes, neck pain persists: I'm like a rotisserie chicken at night, turning periodically on the spit that is my spine to keep it from getting too stiff. However, at the age of forty five, after Esquire deemed women in my age group as surprisingly still fuckable, I'm actually being called "fit" by my instructor for the first time in my life. He kindly called me a "raging waste of potential" around the second month, and he's correct: I've never committed to any kind of exercise plan for more than a couple of months in my entire adult life. If I had made an effort when I was younger, he's saying that I might have been an athlete. But I didn't. So I wasn't. It was never about being Strong, which it turns out, is way better than Skinny. I tried Herbalife, Diet Center, Michael Thurmond Six Week Makeover(pre-Extreme Makeover). Nothing stuck or made me Skinny. So I officially call bullshit on Skinny. And I cannot over emphasize the awesomeness of Strong.
I'm NOT bragging here, people, I'm simply saying that if I, notoriously and shockingly lazy for my whole life about this sort of thing, can get into acceptable shape, then so can you. It just takes some time. Three hours a week is where you start. Do more, get there faster. Eat less, lose more weight. Blah blah blah. It's totally boring,I know, this conversation about weight loss/fitness, but it does work if you do it. And I still have miles to go.
The other revelation that I made was in this last month: sugar is like a bad boyfriend-sweet but ultimately going to kill me and my kids. This includes brown sugar, evaporated cane juice and cane syrup,confectioners’ sugar( my personal favorite),corn sweetener and corn syrup,dextrose,fructose,fruit juice concentrates,agave, glucose,granulated white sugar,high-fructose corn syrup,honey,invert sugar,lactose,maltose,malt syrup,molasses,raw sugar,sucrose,syrup. I hate this revelation with a passion, but it's been had, and I'm thinking we're not going back. I had the kids watch "Fed Up", and it scared them into not complaining about the whole wheat pancakes with a dollop of light whipped cream that have replaced challah french toast with maple syrup, or the sugar free puffed brown rice cereal and unsweetened milk alternative that replaced Honey Nut Cheerios and Cinnamon Life.
No more orange juice, apple juice, Z-Bars, granola bars, cookies, twice/thrice weekly visits to frozen yogurt/ice cream/popsicles after school. No more enormous 20 ounce lemonades at lunch before white rice/white pasta slathered in butter and cheese. It's water/milk alternative and brown rice/whole wheat pasta slathered in Earth Balance/olive oil and some sort of sugar free tomato/pesto sauce with mandatory broccoli/carrots/fresh peas/salad. Its frozen mango after school or homemade lightly stevia sweetened peach frozen yogurt that will save us a lot of money in the long run, but I might have to get a new food processor because it HATES making frozen yogurt.
We cheat on the weekends, but a lot less than before, and when they have a cupcake at school or chocolate milk at a party I don't make a big deal out of it.
It's a little depressing, actually. There is a joylessness in a world without sugar, but the choice is either a slightly joyless present or an acutely joyless future with a host of potential medical issues.
Despite the temptation to substitute, the kids don't get any chemical/artificial sweetener except occasional stevia in moderation because the point is not to replace but to diminish the desire for sugar altogether. You may be thinking "duh, already did all that", but before seeing "Fed Up", I wasn't that concerned. Neither child is overweight, their cholesterol is excellent, they exercise regularly. As a family we are lucky to eat well, primarily vegetarian, and our genetic background is-oh, yeah that's right- each of us has a first cousin with diabetes and my husband has a  grandmother who has had it for twenty or so years. It never occurred to me that diabetes might be a risk factor for us. It is predicted to EXPLODE in the next few decades, so I did the math for the added sugar that the kids eat each day. This is not their entire diet, just the stuff with added sugar:

french toast/pancakes/waffles with syrup(15g);Honey Nut Cheerios with milk alternative (12g), occasional juice or smoothie(22g)
Sunflower seed butter sandwich with some Nutella/jam on whole wheat or challah bread(20g)
Z-Bar/granola bar(11g average);cookie (5g)
After school treat
frozen yogurt, ice cream, popsicle(12-25g)
penne with red sauce(5g)
Veggie chicken with ketchup(4g)

small treat(10g)

Add it up. Give or take it's 80-100 a day of added sugar. Holy Shit.

They are supposed to have 12g.
12 GRAMS according to the World Health Organization.

To my surprise, my primarily vegetarian kids with zero exposure to fast food, 7-11, sodas etc. were getting seven or eight times the recommended daily allowance. This was not every day, but it was more the norm than the exception. And if we were that far off, what must be happening with the population of kids who have no one telling them what not to eat? I shudder to think of the state of their young livers. I fear for the future of all those sick people that will have done it to themselves.
I took the advice from "Fed Up" and started really reading labels.There is added sugar in EVERYTHING. Even a few grams here and there can add up to a lot more than you realize.
It's overwhelming, but it's our new reality. And, yes, I will eat cake on occasion and will never stop drinking wine. Some things are worth dying for.
I am very proud of my girls for not flat out rebelling. They've been very supportive when my "breakfast bread pudding " is too disgusting to eat or the smoothie sans sugar is not very good at all, they politely decline. It's a work in progress. I'm hoping some of it sticks and that they go into middle school and high school with a sense that healthful equals strong, smart and beautiful instead of being the exclusively pizza eating, soda drinking, candy bar consuming kids that we saw in the movie and see every day out on the world.However, if you notice them hiding in the bathroom at school binge eating Hershey's Kisses, let me know, okay?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Don't wanna hurt anymore...

I have a love hate relationship with LA Fitness. Aside from the obvious reasons why anyone would hate their gym (and I imagine that applies to The Sports Club La with its fabled dressing rooms filled with Hugh Hefner's girlfriends), having belonged to LA Fitness off and on since 1987, I have seen it morph and change and somehow stay the same while I, too, have morphed and changed and also stayed the same- well, now I'm fatter and older, but so is LA Fitness.
I signed up at the original Hollywood Boulevard location, and the two dudes who checked us in for the work out were straight out of an SNL skit:
Mr. My Pecks are Huge said "heyyyy, okaaaaaay....can I see you driver's license, please?" which sounded more like "would you like to see my penis?"
He took my sister's license while his co-worker,  Mr. Hair Gel,  took mine.They both gazed appreciatively at the respective pictures (we are talking about drivers license pictures, people, possibly the worst photographs ever taken of anyone) and handed them back, squinting seductively. Mr. My Pecks Are Huge nodded and murmured "five twenty five..." as he handed my sister's  back to her, perhaps attempting to seduce her with her own measurements? Mr. Hair Gel just grinned, appreciatively, I think,  but his expression was so alarming that I'm not entirely sure. My sister and I took our frozen with embarrassment expressions and went to find  the personal trainer counter. We avoided the locker room, just in case the two front desk dorks might have bored a Porky's style hole in the wall, because that is how bizarre it was. We signed up for the complimentary fitness test. A pudgy guy put me on the treadmill for ten minutes and took some measurements. Nothing creepy happened, but when he declared my fitness level to be elite, or "off the charts", I knew that this was not going to work out, literally. He needed to tell me that I was going to die if I didn't work out every day for the rest of my life. I was there for motivation, not to get a date or to be placated. I probably went to the gym six times in the three years I was a member.

Over the years, I joined other gyms-Bally's, Bodies in Motion- but nothing ever grabbed me and made me want to do it. My husband loves to tell the story about Bodies in Motion where I cried in the kickboxing class and ran out, never to return. Fuck that instructor for yelling in my face. It wasn't "Officer and a Gentleman" for god's sake.  He is lucky I didn't make him the punching bag. I also walked out of the Wilshire LA Fitness once because the obese employee eating a Subway sandwich and a twenty four ounce soda right next to the treadmills asked me to put my minuscule backpack in a locker. It had three hundred dollars in cash inside- probably my rent- and I wasn't about to put it in a locker with a label on it that said "not responsible for articles stolen from locker". The whole thing was so weird- I mean, his sandwich was bigger than my backpack.  The oniony fumes permeated the entire area. I should have asked him if there were health department rules about eating in such close proximity to sweating people. I stormed out (I'll take any excuse to skip a workout) and didn't go back to that location for a few years. He came after me, lettuce stuck to his face, saying "Come on, Ma'am...please? Just come back?". Uh, no fucking way?
Over the years, I've had spurts of interest in walking, running, hiking, yoga, Wii Fit, Zumba, the Barre Method(which left me practically paralyzed with pain for four days), Morning Bootcamp at 6am-I've tried everything but Pilates, which terrifies me. Motivation, where are you hiding out these days? Maybe if my husband was overtly disgusted at the sight of me, I'd find the right fitness routine, but that is not the case. Thanks, honey, for enabling my abject fitness laziness.

I STILL have a membership to LA Fitness. I go infrequently, as evidenced my my squishy belly and penchant for pie baking in my spare time. The last time I went was a few weeks ago, and it was actually kind of thrilling. As I sat in the waiting area, watching the oldest man in the world slowly use the thigh machine and trying to decide which boring exercise method I would drag ass through for the next forty five minutes,  a well toned butt was suddenly right by my face. It was an employee, in spandex,  and she was uncharacteristically taking the defibrillator off the wall and getting ready to use it on someone. I moved to the opposite seat so I could better view the developing scene. Normally, the employees are the most bored people on earth, and why wouldn't they be? Arguing with members about lapsed payments; validation issues; noisy, grunting, aggressive weight lifters; other gym rats behaving badly; sweaty, angry, slobby people. Ugh. However, in action-they were kind of impressive.  A second girl rushed from the bathroom to the front desk. The manager was lackadaisically saying "If you can't resuscitate her, call 911, okay?" but he might has well have been saying "get me the tuna fish, but make sure they put the mayo on the side, okay?", but maybe he was just "remaining calm".
Both girls rushed to the bathroom, and after a brief angel/devil conversation with myself, I followed. Just around the first doorway, a gaggle of towel clad women were gathered around a fully nude woman, probably seventy, and about the size of my eight year old. She was emaciated and faint, her head bobbing here and there as various women asked her questions and kept her listing body upright on the changing bench. One of the front desk girls was on the phone with 911, explaining, passing on information that came from the gaggle as it developed. I watched the scene for a few minutes, but it never really unfolded-she had some sort of medication she forgot to take. Getting old is so much fun. I finally went to the treadmills with an old New York Times magazine. The fire department arrived and took her out on a stretcher a few minutes later.

I haven't been back since.  My neck hurts all the time, running down the beach with a kite renders me limping for days, my knees hurt going up stairs(it's pathetic), and the very thought of putting on a bathing suit scares me more than all of Eli Roth's gory movies put together. Well, things are about to change. While the endorphin rush will be nice, I'm not trying to be Mrs. America or get all crazy with my appearance- I just want to not ache all the time. I want to  be able to hold any grandchildren or nieces and nephews that might come my way without getting a week long crick in my neck. I want to shave my legs in the shower without getting a charley horse. I want to go to Machu Picchu and Nepal and the Grand Canyon and not be the straggler who can't make it off the tour bus. You get the idea.  I have to start now because it will take FOREVER, but I've got no choice.
Thanks to Groupon, I have signed up for a ladies only bootcamp, beginning next week, which starts at a delightful, manageable 9AM and sounds kind of, My husband has predicted that I will have my flabbalicious ass handed to me Day One, but I am feeling optimistic. I have my friend, One Fit Mother, to thank for the ongoing encouraging FB posts and the evidence that change is possible; my friend Rachel, who is an ongoing inspiration, and I have my own mother, who is in amazing shape at sixty seven years old, to thank for good genes that I have been so shamefully wasting.
This is my version of putting a "before" picture on the fridge, as a reminder of exactly what needs to change, so feel free to inquire when you see me next, or better yet, sign up and join me while it lasts or go to their website

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I, Tooth Fairy.

It is coming to an end and fast. Not to sound too Don Henley about it all, but he does sing about being "poisoned by these fairy tales" in his hit song "End of the Innocence". Despite his past penchant for bending  not one, not two, but three simultaneous prostitutes over his couch and entering them like so many glory holes in a truck stop men's room, I suppose he knows about innocence lost as much as the next rock star. 

But that isn't what I am talking about. 

I am talking about the genuine article,  the purest sweetest kind that still believes in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth fairy: kid innocence.
It never occurred to me not to perpetuate the myths of my youth. I have no recollection of when and how I discovered the truth, but I am certain that I hold no grudges for being lied to, nor am I scarred by my belief in any of it. 

I hope the same is true for my children. 

I will never forget the look on Big's two and a half year old face when she came out on Christmas morning and the cookies and soy milk we had left out were gone, carrot bites were strewn about as if reindeer had been tramping around our tiny living room, and the coffee table had been moved aside as if some large fat man in a red suit had really visited us in the night. She froze at the sight of it, momentarily processing that someone had been in our house while we slept. The pile of  glittery wrapped presents superseded any residual fear she might have had but for a short lived aversion to giant fuzzy mascots. She and, later, her sister happily accepted the unspoken deal that if they were good and followed the rules, these unseen characters would reward them with stuff a few times a year. It's been almost six years and Santa is still real, for now.  The Easter Bunny is going strong, but I had to change the baskets last year because kids retain details like some sort rogue computers and spit it all back out: "how did the Easter Bunny keep the same baskets?" " how come the fake grass is always the same color?". So much for reduce recycle and reuse. How are these kids even noticing with all the crap jammed inside the basket anyway? 

The Tooth Fairy is in serious trouble, though-I give her a couple of weeks. A few years back,  Big panicked when she hadn't lost any teeth by five, or six and was overjoyed at seven when the two front teeth finally came out. The Tooth Fairy came and left money or gifts which Big stores in a shoe box in her dresser drawer. I have yet to be detected and have even gone so far as to reply to a note Big left in mini handwriting answering the burning question of her Fairy's name and favorite color. The problem is that other kids are starting to get wise, and she is starting to ask direct pointed questions like " Is the Tooth Fairy real, tell the truth...Mooooommmmm".
I know that the right thing to do is to tell her the truth and bribe her not to tell her sister (who just lost her first tooth), but the truth with regard to childhood lore is a slippery slope: Once the Tooth Fairy is exposed as the boozy, lying fraud that she is, the other myths will follow suit and then it's over. Since we aren't religious, all of those holidays will just become about over consumption and acquisition. Blech.

I came close to ruining Christmas last summer when a note that Big had left for Santa showed up weeks later in a folder full of old holiday cards. I was cleaning out a box of crap and the note was in there, likely jammed in on Christmas morning before they came downstairs. She had taped a calculator to a piece if paper so he could figure out how many miles he had left to travel and scrawled something adorable next to it. She saw it under a small pile of stuff and seized it indignantly-"My NOTE! Didn't Santa take it?" I stammered and came up with some lame excuse that it must have gotten blown into the holiday cars when he opened the door to leave. She bought it, and we moved on, but this Tooth Fairy Inquisition is hardcore. If there is a quiet moment, she tries to pin me down. I deflected the first round with an impromptu discussion about puberty, going so far as to show them a picture book about reproduction. They were sufficiently grossed out by the cartoon drawings of girls and boys at the various stages of growth, and- despite being  repeatedly compared to the drawing of the grandmother, whose breasts sagged at her wrinkled, old belly button-my diversion worked. Things got quiet when I explained that they, too, would grow hair on their private parts-possibly as early as fourth grade. "There goes childhood!" proclaimed Big, leaving the room in disgust. Little just giggled uncomfortably, thankful at last to be the younger one. From the mouths of babes...

We got  a break from all the questions and "Come on, Mom, you can tell me the truth"-s with the puberty talk, followed by Thanksgiving/ Hanukkah/Christmas,  but this is not over by a long shot. I would have taken her aside months ago and explained, but since I am one half of a parenting team- the less romantic, more practical half- I need to convince my husband that it's time to tell the truth. 
But it's not that easy. Santa squeaked by with some inventive use of 99 cent store labels that say "from Santa" and special wrapping paper that is now hidden in our garage until school starts so it can be donated. They were thrilled by the sit on bouncy balls that Santa brought them- the "surprise gift" from their carefully written letters where they proclaimed themselves worthy of their requests.  "That Santa is a genius," I said.  "I'm Good! I'm Good!" cried Little, bouncing wildly around the living room. My husband beamed. Yep, innocence is awesome. 

Just after Christmas, the Tooth Fairy came for Little. As I scrawled out the teeny words in response to Little's note: "Dear Tooth Fairy, What is your name and what is your favorite color?", I did have a pang of regret. What are we protecting? Who is being served? I got an answer the next morning, when Little crawled into bed at 4:12, exhilarated from the receipt of a ten dollar bill and a response from her very own Tooth Fairy. It was confirmation from a trusted, widely acknowledged non-parental source that she was good, worthy, deserving. Big read the note and tossed it aside- " it looks like Mom's writing".  I then spent an embarrassing amount of time writing out the same words the Tooth Fairy had written on a separate piece of paper, emphatically pointing out the differences and joking with her that hand writing analysis is not in her future.  I think, hopefully, that Big wants to believe. Yes, she will be confused by our choice to deflect rather than explain. There are significant issues of trust and respect that will definitely need to be addressed,  but I will ask her to join in on keeping it all alive for her younger sister and hope that in doing so, she will come to understand the magic of myth and its infinite whimsy, imagination, hopefulness, wonder, escape. If that makes me a lying sack of shit, so be it.